Worse than Opioids? Alcohol Deaths Continuing to Rise

Worse than Opioids? Alcohol Deaths Continuing to Rise

“The death certificate never says alcoholism. It said heart arrhythmia and heart valve disease. But nobody in our family had heart problems.”

~ Ron Byrd, whose daughter, Erika, died because of excessive drinking

Teenager refuses AlcoholIt’s a national health crisis—drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high.  In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans fatally overdosed.  Opioids such as prescription painkillers, heroin, and the newest threat, fentanyl kill more people than any other class of drug.  This is why the media constantly talks about the ongoing “opioid epidemic”.



But there is a far deadlier substance that is not generating nearly as many headlines –alcohol.

Alcohol: The Sobering Statistics

The numbers garnered by several analyses and studies highlight reasons for concern:

  • Every year, over 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes.
  • That is nearly 6 million years of life lost.
  • Between 2007 and 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol spiked by 35%.
  • The alcohol-related death rate increased by 24%.
  • Deaths among males rose by 29%.
  • Alarmingly, deaths among females jumped 67%.
  • In the 45 to 64-year-old age demographic, deaths climbed about 25%.
  • Between 2008 and 2014, the rate of Emergency Room it for acute alcohol consumption—binge drinking—increased by 40%.
  • The ER visit rate for chronic alcohol consumption—long-term alcohol abuse—rose 60%.
  • Between 1999 and 2016, the number of deaths from alcohol-induced liver disease within the 25 to 34-year-old age demographic nearly tripled.

Alcohol Abuse in California in General and San Diego in Particular

This is happening everywhere in the United States. Here in California, where high alcohol content cocktails are popular, alcohol-related deaths are among the worst in the country. Dr. Rohit Loomba, of the UC San Diego Health Liver Center said, “If someone was having highly concentrated alcohol, then they’re consuming more drinks per hour. That will have detrimental effects on the liver, for sure.”

Craft beers, which are extremely popular in California have considerably more alcohol than commercially-available varieties. For example, while the alcohol content by volume for Budweiser is 4.99%, the average craft beer is 5.9% ABV. Significantly, between 2011 and 2014, 46% of new craft beer releases had an ABV of 6.5% or higher.

This means that drinking “just a few beers” takes on hole new meaning when craft beers are the drink of choice.

Wine production and consumption is extremely high in the state. For example, if California was an independent nation, it would rank as the fourth-largest wine producer in the world. Not surprisingly, Californians consume more wine than any other US state.

Locally, San Diego County also faces challenges.

Just this fall, San Diego was determined to be the “Booziest City in America”. This is not an honor—it means that there is more money spent on alcohol per household in San Diego than in any other city in the United States. This puts San Diego far ahead of such hard-drinking cities as Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York.

This is also not a new development, because San Diego ranked second in 2016. But it does represent a troubling 30% one-year increase—from $850 in 2016 to $1112 in 2017.

Part of the reason is because San Diego is the “Craft Beer Capital of America”. As of mid-2017, there were 182 operational brew houses in San Diego, with another 37 projected. This is more than any other region in the country. And while craft beer sales in the US climbed by 8% in 2017, San Diego sales spiked by 26%.

Between 1999 and 2016, over 1600 San Diegans died due to alcohol, second only to methamphetamine. And while 2016’s total of 110 alcohol-related deaths in San Diego County is down from 2012’s peak of 142, it still represents a 75% increase over 1999.

How Does Alcohol Kill?

“It is poison, and we’re treating it like it’s something other than that because there‘s big corporate money behind it. A lot of people are getting really rich on something that is toxic to us.”

~ Attorney Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, her memoir about high-functioning alcoholism

Alcohol is a direct toxin that affects the brain, spinal cord, nerves, muscles, organs, and even the cells. As a result, the World Health Organization has identified over 200 diseases and chronic health conditions that are caused by drinking, including:

In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 20 cancer deaths is alcohol-related.  And women have it even worse, because even taking just one daily drink significantly increases the risk of breast cancer– by up to 13%.

Faster Than You Might Think

Like many, we were ignorant to the effects that alcohol has on the body.  I thought she had time, time.  Time to hit rock bottom and time to seek help.  I never knew that only 5 years of alcohol abuse could take the life of someone so young.”

~ Brenda Padgett, who lost her daughter to alcoholism

When most people think of the “typical” late-stage alcoholic, they mentally picture a middle-aged or senior man whose body has been ravaged by years or even decades of heavy drinking.  But if anything, recent research shows that alcohol abuse can destroy physical health in a relatively short time.

For example, a recent USA Today article lists several examples and of people who drink themselves to death in a relatively rapid fashion:

  • Eric Byrd was just 42 when she died from alcohol-induced heart damage.
  • Ashley hartshorn “only” abused alcohol for five years before she died, after the onset of depression.
  • Amy Durham “barely drank” until she was in her 30s. At age 40, alcohol almost killed her.  When her family took her to the hospital, she was in triple organ failure and went into a coma that lasted 10 days.  She then needed six weeks of dialysis.  By the time she checked into a rehab program, Amy was carrying around an extra 100 pounds of fluid.
  • Lance Juracka died at 36, after just three years of heavy drinking.

Lance is a prime example of how fast the physical decline can be.  His mother, Nancy, says, “Once he got a taste for alcohol, it really did him in fast.  I don’t understand how Lance’s liver went so quick.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among people who died because of alcohol-related causes, their lives are shortened by an average of 30 years.

Why is This Happening?

“Culturally, we’ve made it acceptable to drink but not to go out and shoot up heroin. A lot of people will read this and say ‘What’s the problem?’”

~ Dr. Benjamin Miller, Chief Strategy Officer for Well Being Trust

Overall, a major part of the problem is the social acceptability of alcohol. Not only is it legal, the vast majority of people have used it—over 80% of American adults have tried alcohol, and nearly two-thirds report drinking within the past year.

Next, while there are many public awareness campaigns and programs aimed at curbing opioid addiction, efforts at addressing alcohol abuse fall woefully short. For example, virtually no public advertising focuses on how excessive drinking affects health or the family.  Existing efforts focus almost exclusively on drunk driving prevention.

Finally, social media may be playing a part.  Recent research has tied the use of such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to worsened feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression. This is significant, because many younger people are engaging in certain behaviors that once were more practiced only by elderly alcoholics, such as drinking heavily alone.

Specifically for women, the problem is even more complicated. Professor Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington says that the cultural acceptance of alcohol, combined with its easy accessibility, are both among the chief reasons for the increase. In other words, it is no longer socially taboo for  American women to drink.

Many women also use alcohol to relieve the stress of being a working mother.  Even today, stubborn gender roles dictate that even after putting in a full day’s work, many modern women must still come home, cook dinner, and be their children’s primary caregiver.  This creates a tremendous amount of pressure, so what starts with a few glasses of wine to unwind becomes a pattern.

What Does All of This Mean to You?

Here’s the bottom line—alcoholism is just like any other addiction, and with one important difference: it’s even MORE dangerous.  In fact, many experts judge alcohol  to be the most dangerous drug in the world.

This means that if you or someone you care about has a drinking problem, the best time to get help is RIGHT NOW. Because of the terrible nature of the disease of addiction, tomorrow and another chance aren’t guaranteed.

If you live in Southern California, Lasting Recovery outpatient alcohol rehab in San Diego is the trusted resource you need. With an award-winning approach to treatment, Lasting Recovery can help you safely and successfully regain your sobriety.

Lasting Recovery—“Where Wellness Begins…”